By Kathleen Gilbert
CHICAGO, July 9, 2009 (LifeSiteNews.com) – The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has told a non-profit coalition of pro-life groups in Iowa to promise that it would not organize protests at Planned Parenthood abortion facilities before it is granted tax exempt status.
Pro-life lawyers say the organization has steadily kept within the guidelines for non-profit religious, educational and charitable groups. However, several months after the group applied for tax-exempt status, an IRS agent contacted Coalition for Life Iowa president Sue Martinek to inquire as to whether the group engages in any “picketing” or protesting at Planned Parenthood, and questioned the group's prayer activity outside Planned Parenthood facilities.
Lawyers with the Thomas More Society say the agent asked Martinek “to have all Coalition Board members sign a statement that the Coalition will not 'picket' or 'protest' outside Planned Parenthood or similar organizations and will not 'organize' others to do so,” and indicated that the IRS “would approve the Coalition's pending form 1023 application once such statement was submitted.”
The Thomas More Society issued a statement Monday decrying the “prejucidial” questioning and announcing they would take the IRS to court if it fails to grant the group tax-exempt status, apparently solely based upon its religious affiliation and speech.
“The IRS' requests come perilously close to violating the First Amendment constitutional rights of the Coalition's supporters,” said the Society.
“The IRS's delay and questioning of the Coalition's tax-exempt, legitimate activities constitutes unnecessary and prejudicial interference with the Coalition's legal right to a tax-exempt determination. Consequently, the IRS should approve the Coalition's 1023 application without further delay.”
The lawyers point out that many other organizations regularly advocate on both sides of these issues, and they have not been hindered in obtaining or maintaining tax-exempt status under section 501(c)(3).
“The IRS not only erroneously forbade the Coalition for Life of Iowa from engaging in 'advocacy' as a section 501(c)(3) non-profit organization; they also never gave any explanation as to why their request was relevant,” said Thomas Brejcha, president and chief counsel for the Thomas More Society.
“The Coalition has clearly and truthfully stated that all its activities fall in line with IRS guidelines. The IRS is protecting Parenthood and harassing the Coalition for Life of Iowa.”
Warned Brejcha, “If the IRS can discriminate against one non-profit based on its beliefs and religious affiliation, then the IRS could regulate the speech of any other non-profit organization.”
Coalition for Life of Iowa president Sue Martinek did not answer LifeSiteNews.com calls for comment as of press time.
“This is the way government oppression creeps into a society,” commented American Life League president Judie Brown. “It starts when the government targets, and attempts to intimidate and silence the grassroots dissenters who will not dance to the tune of the Obama administration's radically pro-abortion policies.”
“This is not only political intimidation by the Internal Revenue Service but it is a blatant violation of First Amendment rights,” said Brown. “Neither the Coalition for Life of Iowa nor any other educational and advocacy organization should be subjected to such discriminatory scrutiny. This is a clear case of government repression.”